The Mystery of the Rose

The Mystery of the Rose

Mysteries, by Knut Hamsun. 1892

Okay. So, yes. The title of my blog post is a bit misleading, if not melodramatic. It’s a bald attempt to merge two new additions to Spinozablue — by Alexis Wingate and George Spencer, respectively. Here and here. Alexis brings us a provocative essay on Knut Hamsun’s novel, Mysteries, and George gives us his unique improvisation from a line of Barbara Guest’s poetry.

But there is a precedent for that merger. Women and roses have been connected for millennia, in obvious and covert ways. Mysterious ways. Wild, secret, deep under the surface ways. Secret societies used The Rose as a multi-faceted symbol for woman, growth, love, birth, beauty, the unfolding of life, surprise, shock and awe. Perhaps Dagny is Hamsun’s rose. Barbara Guest used the symbol in a variety of forms as well. Its range runs the gamut from the subconscious to the easily seen and back again.

The ancient Greeks linked the rose with Aphrodite, and the Romans used it as a sort of talisman to protect secrets. The Latin phrase, sub rosa (under the rose) means secretive or private. Christian symbology associates rose petals with the wounds of Jesus, and the rose itself with Mary. At various times during the course of Christian history, these associations have been accepted or rejected, depending in part upon the degree of tolerance for ancient “pagan” beliefs and rituals.

Much has been said about roses in literature, paintings, music and so on. It seems Gertrude Stein tried to have the last word:

Rose is a rose is a rose.

Like Andy Warhol’s soup cans, we can poeticize exhaustion, add comedic touches, make the point that things are what they are, but we really can’t stop the flow of human expression and attention to Mystery. We really can’t stop minds racing for connections to the unseen, the unknown, the forgotten or the misplaced. We will always search under the rose for new meanings.


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